May 27, 2007
By Peter Huessy
May 28, 2007
Hans Blix, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, was in Washington recently to brief Senate staff about why the United States stands in the way of the world getting rid of nuclear weapons.
He lumped together the Reliable Replacement Warhead, or RRW, program that the Bush administration is supporting, the illicit North Korean nuclear weapons program, the British policy of replacing its aging Trident fleet with new submarines and the nuclear modernization programs of China and Russia. All were "bad," he said, and were undermining the NPT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 that called on the world to seriously negotiate an eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.
Getting rid of nuclear weapons is, unfortunately, a fantasy that keeps getting in the way of sound U.S. deterrent strategy. Mr. Blix believes in this fairy tale despite presiding over the development of nuclear weapons in India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea -- the latter two are members of the NPT.
In his remarks to Senate staff he made the astounding claim that Britain had no need for nuclear weapons because the Netherlands and Sweden didn't have them. He claimed the United States' hostile policy toward North Korea made Pyongyang pursue nuclear weapons. (This is not unlike his previous claim that Iran has a right to nuclear weapons because, after all, it has to defend itself against Israel and the United States.) And while saying Iran was not pursuing nuclear weapons, he said all the mullahs wanted was not to be threatened by the United States. If the United States and its allies simply adopted policies that made them morally superior in the nuclear business -- meaning do not do anything to continue the maintenance of our nuclear deterrent -- then Iran, North Korea and other potential rogue states will see the necessity of following such a profoundly correct path and give up their brutish ways. In short, if the United States had "clean and pure hands," the mad mullahs in Tehran and the Soprano state in North Korea would jump on the freight train of reform.
This infectious disease -- the moral arrogance that sees the United States at fault wherever there are problems in the world -- was long ago identified by the late Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick as the "blame America first" syndrome. Mr. Blix is not the only one afflicted. Members of the Union of Concerned Scientists greeted the House cut of funds for the RRW with great glee claiming such action finally put the United States on the high road toward meeting its obligations under the NPT, one of which was nuclear disarmament.
But as former SAC Commander and Air Force Chief of Staff Larry Welch argued recently, there is no prospect that nuclear weapons will be eliminated anytime in our lifetime or that the knowledge of how to build such weapons will somehow disappear. He argued therefore that nuclear deterrence -- being job No. 1 for the United States and its allies -- had to be maintained. And at whatever level of nuclear weapons we maintain, the weapons should be reliable, safe, secure and less costly -- exactly what the RRW is for.
Some in Congress have urged the administration to put together an update of the previous Nuclear Posture Review and lay out what the future strategic landscape might look like in 2030 -- the worst case scenario, one that is a marked improvement over today and the maintenance of the status quo. Such an examination of the future would be guesswork for sure, but it might help give U.S. policy-makers a sense of the range of nuclear weapons we might have compared to the current planned deployed stockpile of roughly 2200 warheads. This would tell us in turn what level of warheads we would need to be able to produce annually should we have to rapidly build up in the face of new threats.
But the current U.S. deterrent needs to be maintained. The level of warheads under the Moscow Treaty is exactly right for the threats we face. Certainly the horizon looks less friendly today than it did some years ago as China rapidly modernizes its military and its nuclear arsenal and as the threats from North Korea and Iran remain. An infrastructure capable of replacing current warheads and dismantling those no longer needed is very much needed and that is at the heart of why RRW has been proposed.
The United States is engaging in no arms race. The United States deployed and non-deployed stockpile will be reduced to its lowest level since 1957 when the Moscow treaty's nuclear weapons reductions have been implemented by the end of this decade. Missile defenses and long range conventional prompt strike capabilities will also be added to the arsenal an American president will have to provide for the common defense.
Those who cheer the undermining of America's deterrent capability -- as they did during the very height of the Cold War -- also put at risk our liberty and freedoms and those of our allies. Blaming America first is a gimmick of those without sound plans and policies for the future, people who are empty of the moral courage needed to defend the free world.
Peter Huessy is president of GeoStrategic Analysis.